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Keywords:

  • Brazil;
  • ambidexerity;
  • labor and environmental standards;
  • prosecutor;
  • street-level bureaucracy

Abstract

Recent research on regulatory enforcement has been showing that the best way to enforce protective regulations is to thoroughly adapt the remedy to the problem at hand. Unfortunately, this is far from easy, as organizations and work environments all too often encourage street-level bureaucrats to standardize and simplify their practices. In an attempt to bridge this gap, many scholars equate responsiveness to preprogrammed escalation. This article analyzes how the Brazilian Ministério Público (MP) promotes a more ambitious form of responsiveness, here called relational regulation. While most of the formal features of the MP encourage routinization, groups of reformist prosecutors identify important cases, recruit external allies, and jointly devise innovative and context-specific solutions to problems of non-compliance. Crucially, this mode of action is not an anomaly, the result of individual proclivities or specific and formal job assignments. Rather, it is systematically produced by a mostly parallel and covert organization that operates within and expands beyond the MP itself. These two logics – routinized and custom-made responses – compete, cooperate, interpenetrate, and find common ground within the same organizational umbrella, and through their interaction they create an enforcement agency that is more robust, reliable, and responsive than allowed by current theory.